Dennis Anderson

With more than a half-million dead across the United States, there is no question that COVID-19 persists as a life-and-death struggle that continues to batter the nation.

At the same time, the pandemic and the confusion of rules and responses to it, have imposed a fight for the life-and-death of — for the most part — small businesses, many of which have already closed and many of which are hanging on by their fingernails.

I bought Valentines at a store that has been a small business treasure in the Antelope Valley for more than 40 years. It was a bargain, 75% off retail because the store was closing. It shared a corner with a retail fast fashion store going out of business. There will be more.

One of the hardest hit sectors is dining and entertainment. Because of the waves of the pandemic, retreating a bit, then re-surging like a wildfire of contagion, restaurants, bars, wineries and breweries have been among the small hospitality businesses taking repeated hits. 

They come in the form of the rules and regulations that have opened and closed these establishments repeatedly during the 12 months we have lived in a mix of shelter from contagion and resistance to living under home confinement. Meanwhile, multitudes of essential workers — the ones who clean, cook and sell to everyone out there, have had to live by luck, their wits and shortages of PPE, so it’s been a tough slog. 

It has been a series of misfortunes for most Antelope Valley establishments, with outdoor dining and drinking opening and closing as infections ebbed and surged, including Bravery Brewery, known as one of the AV veteran community’s treasured spots.

On Super Bowl Sunday, when everyone was admonished to stay home, Bravery Brewing Co. planned to be open for just a few hours to sell takeout beer. Nobody was being seated.

A Los Angeles County health inspector arrived, ordering the establishment to shut down immediately. She informed the lone employee that since no food was being served, the establishment could not operate.

“The lone employee there was smart enough to say he wanted to call his boss,” Proprietor-Owner Bart Avery said. Avery’s son, Brian, the master brewer, returned the call and explained no Los Angeles County regulations were being violated — there were takeout sales, only.

This was not met with warmth or understanding and it took about an hour to untangle.

Meanwhile, the event that took the entire encounter viral was the brewery’s security camera footage. While the health inspector waited for a ruling from on-high, she was seen on camera doing what could be described as dance moves — a kind of rhythmic end-zone twirl.

Within 24 hours, the video and story went viral to the Federalist, to KFI-AM Talk Radio and the Daily Mail — that’s in the United Kingdom. Also to all the Los Angeles area TV news operations, and, ultimately, to Good Morning America.

The health inspector’s supervisor, Patrick Chun, called the next day, framing a kind of apology as a “miscommunication.”

Bart Avery, the struggling businessman who has struggled mightily to stay in business and also stay within the rules, isn’t feeling it.

“Look up misunderstanding in the dictionary,” he said in a telephone interview. “These things keep happening over and over and over.”

He told the Federalist’s business reporter, “We have been decimated by the crazy mandates, shutdowns, re-openings, shutdowns, etc. from our governor and from the Los Angeles County folks. The craziest mandate was from several months, the county mandated that customers needed to make reservations at breweries — the only ones targeted — 24 hours in advance. People normally go spontaneously to breweries, so that was ridiculously out of touch with reality.”

Apology, miscommunication, call it what you like, the health inspector’s little jig riffed while waiting for clarity on shutting down the establishment at the same time that she did not understand her own county regulations, was not a good look.

Meanwhile, the fight for life-and-death of millions of Americans goes on, but so does the fight for life of small businesses struggling to survive. We are told that help is on the way. Faster would be better and so would consistency. The brewery team is not optimistic.

“I don’t think it’s going to make one hill of beans of difference,” Bart Avery said.

Dennis Anderson is a licensed clinical social worker who deployed to Iraq with local National Guard troops to cover the war for the Antelope Valley Press. He works on veterans and community health initiatives.

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